The Golden Age of Hollywood

Star of the Month Profile: Loretta Young

Born Gretchen Michaela Young on January 6, 1913

Attila the Nun
The Iron Butterfly
Saint Loretta

Roman Catholic. Young attended Ramona Convent Secondary School as a teen and contributed to a number of Catholic charitable causes during her career. Marlene Deitrich once said of Young, “Every time she sins, she build a church. That’s why there are so many Catholic churches in Hollywood.” Ouch, Marlene!

Political views
Conservative Republican. Young publicly supported presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan. She also donated money to the Republican National Committee. Like many other stars of the time, including John Wayne, Ginger Rogers, and Irene Dunne, Young was an active member of the Hollywood Republican Committee.

Love life
First married actor Grant Withers in 1930, only to divorce a year later. 

While filming THE CALL OF THE WILD (1935) with Clark Gable, the two stars fell in love, despite Gable being married at the time to Texas socialite Maria Franklin Gable. Young became pregnant and secretly gave birth to a daughter, Judith. The baby was placed in an orphanage and adopted by Young a few months later. 

Clark Gable and Loretta Young in CALL OF THE WILD (1935)

When Young married Tom Lewis in 1940, Judy was given his last name. It wasn’t until she was an adult that Judy learned the truth about her parentage, despite Hollywood gossip and her rather obvious resemblance to her biological father. Tom Lewis produced “The Loretta Young Show” between 1953 and 1955, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1969.

Loretta Young’s third and final marriage was to Hollywood costume designer Jean Louis. Louis designed many of the gowns Young wore for her famously fabulous entrances on “The Loretta Young Show.” The couple were married from 1993 until Louis’s death in 1997.

Loretta Young and her sisters started out in movies at a very young age. She started as a child actor in silent films, first appearing in 1914. After high school, she returned to pictures, often in minor roles until her breakthrough with KENTUCKY (1938). Throughout the 1930s and 40s, Young made a number of successful films, many with other leading actors and actresses of the day, including Cary Grant, Celeste Holm, Van Johnson, and David Niven. Young was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in THE FARMER’S DAUGHTER (1947) and later won an Oscar for COME TO THE STABLE (1949).

Loretta Young won three Emmys for her drama anthology television series “The Loretta Young Show.” Initially, the show was entitle “Letter to Loretta” because each episode began with Young reading a letter from a fan and then building the show around a question asked in the letter. This format was abandoned after the first season and a more traditional dramatic show. Loretta Young was the first woman to host a show of this nature. She became famous for the designer gowns she wore at the beginning of each show. In 1972 Young famously sued the network for rebroadcasting her show with her original introductions included – she had stipulated in her contract that these be omitted in any future broadcasts of the show because she did not want to be seen in outdated fashions. She won more than half a million dollars. Here are a few clips of Miss Young showing off her fantastic swirly dresses:

Most feministy moviesWhen reading the synopses for some of the Loretta Young movies in my TCM “Now Playing” guide, I was surprised by how many progressively strong female roles she played. I have not seen many of these films, but I thought them worth pointing out. You must let me know which of these you have seen and what you thought of them.

Loretta Young and a cutie-patootie baby Cary Grant!
  • BORN TO BE BAD (1934): An unmarried pregnant woman is determined that her child will not grow up to be taken advantage of. Directed by Lowell Sherman and co-starring Cary Grant. (on TCM January 9, 11:00 pm)
  • BIG BUSINESS GIRL (1931): A college girl uses her brains and her legs to conquer the business world. Directed by William A. Seiter and co-starring Joan Blondell and Frank Albertson. (January 16, 4:00 am)
  • THE DOCTOR TAKES A WIFE (1940): A man-hating author and a woman-hating doctor have to pretend they’re married. Directed by Alexander Hall and co-starring Ray Milland, Gail Patrick, and Edmund Gwenn. (January 23, 8:00 pm)
  • WEEK-END MARRIAGE (1932): When her husband loses his job, a woman risks her marriage to become the breadwinner. Directed by Thornton Freeland and co-starring Norman Foster, Aline MacMahon, and George Brent. (January 23, 2:30 am)
  • THE FARMER’S DAUGHTER (1947): When she goes to work for a congressman, a Minnesota farm girl takes Washington by storm. Directed by H.C. Potter and co-starring Joseph Cotton and Ethel Barrymore. (January 30, 8:00 pm)
  • KEY TO THE CITY (1950): Two mayors meet and fall in love during a convention in San Francisco. Directed by George Sidney and co-starring Clark Gable (*GASP!*), Frank Morgan, Marilyn Maxwell, Raymond Burr, James Gleason, and Lewis Stone. (January 30, 2:45 am)
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Spencer Tracy: TCM’s October Star of the Month

Although Spencer Tracy was Katharine Hepburn’s lover for about 25 years, I am ashamed to say that I know very little about the man, except of course what I have read in Hepburn biographies. I know he was of Irish descent, and like most Irishmen he drank too much and had a serious chip on his shoulder about life. But I do honestly believe that Spencer Tracy was one of the greatest actors of all time, and I didn’t need to read that in a book.

Spencer Bonaventure Tracy of Milwaukee, Wisconsin was nominated for the Academy Award for best actor nine times, two of which he won. On October 15 (this coming Monday), Turner Classic Movies will show six of Tracy Oscar-nominated films. Six of the nine films Tracy made with Katharine Hepburn will be aired on Monday, October 22, followed by the documentary, “The Spencer Tracy Legacy,” hosted/narrated by Hepburn. This past Monday, October 8, TCM showed three of my favorite Spencer Tracy films from his early years as an actor.

LIBELED LADY (1936) [comedy, romance]
Directed by: Jack Conway
Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Jean Harlow
Runtime: 98 minutes
Synopsis: Newspaper editor in chief Warren Haggerty (Tracy) plays twisted cupid for the sake of journalism. When society belle Connie Allenbury (Loy) threatens to sue the newspaper for accusing her as a marriage-breaker, Haggerty employs his playboy friend Bill Chandler (Powell) to trap Allenbury in an elaborate set-up. Everything comes unstuck when Chandler and Allenbury actually fall in love and Haggerty must face pressures from his own girl (Harlow) to tie the knot.

                    Chandler: “I thought that was rather clever of me.”

                    Allenbury: “Yes, I thought you thought so.”

                    Harvey: “What’ll we use as a headline?”
                    Haggerty: “I don’t care. Anything. ‘War threatens Europe.'”
                    Harvey: “Which country?”
                    Haggerty: “Flip a nickel!”

TEST PILOT (1938) [drama, romance]
Directed by: Victor Fleming
Starring: Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Lionel Barrymore, Marjorie Main
Runtime: 119 minutes
Synopsis: Daredevil test pilot and ladies’ man Jim (Gable) falls in love with Ann (Loy) when he crash lands on her family’s farm in Kansas. The two marry almost immediately, much to the chagrin of Jim’s co-pilot and best friend Gunner (Tracy), who is all too aware of the perils of being attached to someone who dices with death for a living. Ann soon learns that life with a test pilot is anything but peaches and cream and Jim must re-examine his priorities now that he has someone besides himself to think about. 

Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy made three movies together: SAN FRANSISCO (1936), TEST PILOT (1938), and BOOM TOWN (1940). The two supposedly stopped working together when Tracy demanded that he be given equal billing. Gable gives an honest performance as the death-defying pilot. Myrna Loy is super-adorable, as usual, though I find it hard to believe she could ever actually be from Kansas (although she is actually from Montana). She has a very juicy part with some great lines. Tracy’s character, unfortunately, is a bit of a mope – I don’t think he smiled once through the whole film! But it is a good flick with some great flying scenes and a lot of heart.

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1941) [drama, horror, sci-fi]
Directed by: Victor Fleming
Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Donald Crisp
Runtime: 113 minutes
Synopsis: In many respects this version of Robert Louis Stevenson‘s classic is more based on its 1931 film predecessor than on the original novel. Although critics panned the movie, and Tracy himself was unsatisfied with his performance, I think it is a good addition to any Halloween film collection. Apparently, Tracy wanted Katharine Hepburn, whom he had not yet met, to play both Bergman and Turner‘s roles. Tracy had ironically turned down the opportunity to star with Hepburn in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) in order to make DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Not to worry – they would get together in 1942 to make WOMAN OF THE YEAR and their professional and personal union would be well underway.

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I Never Will Forget Jeanette MacDonald…or SAN FRANCISCO (1936)

This post is written in conjunction with the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence and ScribeHard on Film. A full day of Jeanette MacDonald films will air on TCM on August 27. SAN FRANCISCO (1936) will be airing at 8:00 pm EST.

Whenever Judy Garland ever sang “San Francisco,” she began with a short verse about the immortal Jeanette MacDonald and her 1936 hit movie by the same name. Garland’s chemistry with her audience really comes across in this clip from a performance at the London Palladium. She begins her song with, “This lady [MacDonald] has never talked to me since I did this. I don’t know why….” This isn’t entirely true – apparently MacDonald didn’t mind the joke, “as long as it’s Judy!”

I regret to say that I’ve never seen any Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy movies, thought I’ve always wanted to see ROSE-MARIE (1936), NAUGHTY MARIETTA (1935), and MAYTIME (1937). It’s funny that the only Jeanette MacDonald film that I’ve seen should happen to also star possibly my least favorite actor, Clark Gable (don’t kill me!).

Gable, Jack Holt, Tracy, and MacDonald in SAN FRANCISCO

SAN FRANCISCO is about young singer Mary Blake (MacDonald) who goes west to find success. She meets Blackie Norton (Gable), a saloon owner and local politician, who hires her to work in his dance hall. Although Mary would rather pursue a more serious career in opera, she is too hungry to turn down a good job. Blackie falls in love with her and proposes, but tensions come to the surface when Mary is hired by the Tivoli Opera House and leaves Blackie’s gambling hall for the legitimate stage. Blackie’s childhood friend, Father Tim (Spencer Tracy), tries to reconcile the couple, but to no avail. Just as you think things couldn’t get worse, the entire city of San Francisco is shaken by the massive 1906 earthquake. Blackie tears through the city, dodging falling and burning buildings, searching for Mary.

MacDonald and Gable relaxing on set

When I first saw this film as a kid, it tore at my heartstrings. It’s every so terribly romantic and extremely dramatic and epically passionate. The earthquake scenes are very well filmed, and I can remember them haunting me for a long time after I watched the movie. Although the San Francisco earthquake was a real event, writer Anita Loos does a fantastic job weaving in a credible fictional love story. She and director Woody Van Dyke bring the heart of humanity to an historical event, especially with the touching back story of Mrs. Burley and her family mansion which must be dynamited to prevent the fire spreading.

Mrs. Burley watches the city burn

Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy, and even Clark Gable give really good performances in this film. Although the romanticizing of the history might be a bit melodramatic for some, I simply can’t get enough – I could watch this movie a million times and still cry my eyes out when MacDonald sings “Nearer My God to Thee.” SPOILER ALERT: this is a clip from the final scene of the movie. Try not to cry!